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Archive for ‘PA’ posts
Dec 5 2011
Wandering is my favorite pastime. Exploring new places, meeting new people. Just looking around and absorbing the vibes. This past weekend was filled with so many exciting discoveries that I just have to share each and every one. I ended the weekend inspired.
Friday afternoon, on a quest to finish a holiday project, I stopped at the Oakmont Candle Company in, duh, Oakmont. This local company makes 100% soy candles in a multitude of really great scents. Owner, Gene Alese, told me that soy candles are required to be just 25% soy, so make sure you ask about this before you buy. Soy burns clean, without any toxic smoke, but 100% soy is the only way to go. Oakmont Candles also make an upscale line called Wyk, with super fabulous packaging. Consider buying local for things even like candles.
Then a few miles over to BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield led to a major gift for myself . . three framed snowflake paintings by Cella Neapolitan. A few years ago I bought one of her snowflake necklaces (okay, I bough two) and they always garner lots of oohs and aahs when I wear them.
Saturday morning started with a stop to get olive oil refills from David Lagnese at the Farmer’s Cooperative of Easty Liberty. Always a great way to get my local food fix and much less crowded than the Strip District. Next stop was the I Made It! Market at Bakery Square, where I made sure to visit Krystal Doring at the Green Bubble Gorgeous booth. I love her products, especially the Mocha Mint and Vanilla Coconut Creme Whipped Body Wash. There’s another I Made It! on December 7 on the Pitt campus, so check it out.
On to the holiday glass sale at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. I love glass because it is cold to the touch and with my current state of hotness ( the temperature kind of hotness, not the cool kind) having gorgeous handmade glass around the house is helpful. The center has a small shop and has classes (great gift idea) throughout the year. Onward to the Holiday Book Fair at the Heinz History Center where I met travel and roadside “wonder” author Brian Butko and his publisher at Stackpole Books. This actually made my day, as I have been Butko fan for years. After paying for my books (too many books), it was time to get home. The day ended with a bison burger from Burgatory for dinner. My favorite burger in the city.
Sunday began with some cookie baking ( dark chocolate cherry and Mexican wedding cookies) and then a visit to the tail end of the Lawrenceville Cookie Tour. Some terrific new finds here . . Atelier at 5204 Butler Street and Trinity Gallery on Hatfield Street. Glass artist Meeghan Triggs does amazing work (I wanted to buy everything in the shop) and, lucky me, I got to meet talented photographer Adam Milliron, who was hanging out in Meeghan’s gallery. Adam showed me some of his recent Carrie Furnace photos and also some stunning food shots. True talent, here. The lighting in his photos gave me chills. Really great work. Dan and Carol Gaser at Trinity Gallery have a gem in their place off the main drag in Lawrenceville by focusing on newer artists. The had more of Dressler’s work and some lots of other art that was so beautiful. Definitely going back to all of my new Lawrenceville finds.
One last stop at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip for some OMG fantastic duck prosciutto from The Crested Duck, and I was finished for the day. So pumped by all of the fantastic artisans following their passion. Thanks to all for making the end of my week so fulfilling!
Oct 17 2011
Sorry for the long gap since the last post. A few new fall tours and some charter tours were underway and things got crazy.
Let me tell you about some of the many wonderful people and stops from recent trips.
First of all, my tours are pretty informal, so by the end of the day, my guests feel like old friends to me. This really is one of the best parts of the tours. The people are just the best. Just had to say this.
Second, the stops are great ( or I wouldn’t have selected them in the first place ) but the owners of the businesses or the docents at the museums or the managers at the stores . . or whoever welcomes us . . .really do make each tour special. These are hard working folks who have a real passion for what they do. And they want to share their enthusiasm. I am truly honored that they are wiling to share their time and expertise with my tours.
Okay, so if you missed the tours this fall, I’ll give you a few places to visit on your own. The Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown is just a treasure. If you go, which you should, please ask for Jim Koontz (see his photo above.) Jim is the innkeeper there, and he continually delights my groups with his knowledge of the inn and of much, much more. During the holidays, The Compass Inn does candlelight tours. The small gift shop is a real gem, too. Check out the MANdles (man candles) and the books of word trivia. THE BEST.
While you are in the Ligonier area, stop at Connections Cafe for lunch. Sharon Detar, the owner, once worked for a vegetarian restaurant and her attention to healthy and fresh really shows. Try her curried chicken salad and the white chocolate raspberry tart.
If you’re out in the Mon Valley, take a drive through Belle Vernon to visit Melanie Patterson at the Good Ol’ Days House. You can usually find Melanie in her store across the street, and if you’re lucky, she’ll give you a quick tour of the bed and breakfast across the street. Melanie carries lots of old time candy and also sells some delicious Gene and Boots ice cream.
For some delicious food that is close to the Burgh, drive on over to the Tin Front Cafe in Homestead. The lovingly prepared vegetarian food is a treat. Ask for Ellie, Daniel or David to fill you in on the history of the building. And then mozy over to Judy’s cookware store next door.
The next sunny autumn day, take a few hours and visit some of these real gems right in our backyard!
Sep 5 2011
Sorry about that title, but I just couldn’t resist. It’s been a long and rainy holiday weekend and I’m getting a bit loopy.
But next weekend is going to be a good one for Pittsburgh food and beer lovers, rain or shine.
The Steel City Big Pour, to benefit Construction Junction, is sold out for next Saturday, but there still lots of things to do during Big Pour Week, which starts on Tuesday the 6th. There are really unique tastings, tours and dinners almost every night. I’ve been on a beer kick ever since tasting some cask beer at the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown last spring and then touring Anheuser Busch in St Louis this summer. Now, instead of ordering a glass of wine with dinner, beer is often my beverage of choice. I’ve been trying to branch out past Corona with a lime, so this past Friday I had a bottle Guatamalan Mariachi at Alma (great meal, by the way) and I really enjoyed its easy drinkability on a super hot day. (Many beer critics label Mariachi as skunky, but I didn’t notice that. Not even sure if I would know skunky if I tasted it. Ha ha)
September 9 through 11 is the Fair in the Park at Mellon Park on the edge of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Always good for getting a headstart on high quality handmade holiday gifts and for eating some “fair” foods like fried veggies and lemonade. Also the 9th through the 11th is the Pittsburgh Irish Festival. Dancing, Gaelic sports, an Irish marketplace and food like bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew are just part of what you’ll find at the Riverplex complex at Sandcastle. Then we have Mountain Craft Days in Somerset with crafters, open hearth cooking demonstrations and more and then the Highland Games in Ligonier, with Highland dancers and Scottish food (haggis, anyone?).
Also next Sunday, the Italian Festival at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree will showcase music, cooking demonstrations, great food, Italian wines . . . some of Rizzi’s fabulous homemade gelato and things like facepainting for the kids. The event runs from 11 to 7. It’s a short drive from Pittsburgh and the generous and kind DeFabo family always delivers when it comes to fun festivities and great food
Last, but not least, is the Sunday Community Heritage Market at the Pump House in Munhall. Ethnic crafts, food and other fun and educational activities for all of the family to enjoy are all in this historic site of the 1892 Homestead Lockout. It only runs through the end of September, so get there now. The market is open from 11 until 3.
Aug 26 2011
Pittsburgh’s largest (and most fun) food event, GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, has something new this year. A chance to be a food star! Make a video highlighting your stellar cooking skills and your entertaining personality and send it to the folks at GoodTaste! Four semi-finalists will be chosen at a cookoff on September 17 at the Carnegie Science Center’s Kitchen Theater. Two finalists will them compete for the title on stage on November 5 at the show. And the prizes are good . . . . $1000, a professional video (you know, to promote yourself to the big leagues at The Food Network or on a morning show), the opportunity to become the 2012 face of GoodTaste!Pittsburgh and other goodies, too. There are a few rules and guidelines, so make sure to read the details here before you get going. The deadline is coming up soon, so hurry and get your video sent into the nice folks at GTP. Good luck! Hope to see one of my readers on stage on November 5.
My favorite Pittsburgh food destination is the Pittsburgh Public Market. From Friday, September 2 through Sunday, September 4, they are celebrating their first birthday. You’ll find samples, live music, giveaways, and a special Public Market birthday cake. I have loved watching the market grow and grow, and I’ve met some wonderful people who sell their products there . The folks at The Berry Patch and at Glades Pike Winery are near and dear to me. And, oh, the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory is just so heavenly. Happy Birthday, Pittsburgh Public Market! It’s been a great year.
Aug 1 2011
Hooray! Hooray! Two tours are scheduled for fall of 2011. I’ve been away in St Louis (great time . . .and the topic of the next blog) so I’m sorry for the delay with this info. The first fall tour is on Thursday, September 29, when we’ll doing a Laurel Highlands II tour. The Laurel Highlands trip was so successful last year (the LH actually include quite a bit of W Pa, but our LH tour focuses on Ligonier and surrounding towns) that we changed the stops a bit and added a new tour in the same area. Want to learn about grilled pizza (oh, yes), herbs and other hidden foodie finds just an hour from Pittsburgh? This is the thing for you.
Then, on Tuesday, October 4, it’s a new route for The Fork and The Road. We’ll be going south of Pittsburgh toward the historic National Road. The pieces are coming together, but believe me, this is going to be a fun food and beverage filled tour, with lots of history thrown in. It’s such a beautiful area and in October the leaves will be stunning. On this adventure, we will be leaving from the South Hills instead of Monroeville. Good news for all of you who have had to drive through the nasty M’ville traffic to get to us last year. We do love McGinnis Sisters, however, and they will still be with us in spirit ( and we’ll be munching on some of their goodies) on this tour.
One thing I am very proud about on our fall tours is that the people who run the businesses where we stop are just the kindest, most hard working folks around. They are truly wonderful and I am thrilled to bring my groups to them.
We’re quite busy with charter tours this fall, but wanted to make sure we included a couple of trips for the general public. Keep checking back, because we are also adding half day tours this fall. They will also be posted soon. Email or call for more details . . .seating is limited. firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.963.8565
May 8 2011
Yesterday was my idea of a perfect day. It kinda started the night before at a wine tasting at Palate Partners/ Dreadnought Wines, where Eric Miller from Chaddsford Winery was signing his new book, and Debbie at Dreadnought was sampling six different wines. Too fun. Too much fun, maybe? Look at the photo below.
The joy spilled over into Saturday, when I met so many great people, got to wander around, tasted some new foods and saw an amazing pre-Mother’s Day event. Saturday started with a visit to the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty for some PA cheese and a few baked goods. A quick drive to the Strip for the season opening on Farmers@Firehouse was next, where I bought some asparagus, tender beet greens and chard, and got to meet Lucinda from Paradise Gardens and Farm. I’ve enjoyed her super fresh goat’s milk products for a while now and love putting a face to the name behind the goodies.
Then on to Salem’s (2923 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1518, 412- 235-7828) for some Middle Eastern goodies and Greek treats at Salonika, both in the Strip. I love these stores because the selection is great, the parking is easy and they’re a little bit away from the Saturday craziness of Penn Ave on a Saturday. And look at the happy exterior of Salem’s.
Next stop? A quick drive ( it’s on the way home) to Lawrenceville to find the perfect last minute M-Day gift. The Gallery on 43rd proved to be the right choice – not only did I find the perfect mosaic for mom, but I also had energizing conversations with Jennie from Bee Happy Honey, Zo Re of ZoBaby and Mona of The Artful Tart. Wonderful women. By then, I was way behind schedule, and I needed to check the route for part of my upcoming Italian tour. Mapquest wasn’t working for the backroads out near Latrobe, so I had to test the route myself. It was one of those afternoons with sun, rain, dark clouds and blue skies, all within minutes of each other. Fabulous.
With tour route nailed down, I decided to pop into Bardine’s Smokehouse in Crabtree to introduce myself, as I had written about them in the May issue of Frommer’s Budget Travel, and although I shop there frequently, I thought I should probably let them put a face to the name on the story. Gary Bardine, the owner, was there and we had a long chat about sausagemaking and his passion for quality. Thank goodness for people like Gary.
On the way back to Route 22, through gorgeous spring farmland, I noticed a cow standing in the field, looking kind of odd. I stopped to stare and right then and there she gave birth to a calf. Oh, my. I pulled over and watched for a bit, then took some photos as the little one tried to stand for the first time. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Apr 16 2011
This morning, while sampling a recently pressed batch of Late Harvest Olio Nuevo from David Lagnese at the California Olive Oil Connection in the East Liberty Farmer’s Cooperative, I asked if he knew if any of the vendors had ramps yet. Just my luck! The stall next to David’s, Zang Greenhouse, owned by Rick Zang, had one bunch left. I’m not even sure I like these things that much, but I know that when it is ramp season, then it really means spring is here, and I like that a lot.
Ramps have a bold garlic/onion flavor, and once cleaned and chopped, they are terrific added to scrambled eggs, mixed in with melted butter for sauteing, or tossed into mashed potatoes. Last year, at the Mason Dixon Ramp Festival, I had them in the form of a ramp burger and I also shared a bite of a plate of deep fried ramps. If you have nothing going on tomorrow, drive down to catch the last day of the festival. It’s in a rural area, right on the border of PA and WV, and it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours. They have music and crafts, and of course, ramps.
All that needs to be said about ramps was recently in a story by Bob Batz at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I hate to repeat something that has already been so well said. So here it is.
After my purchase this morning, I felt confident that I have made it though the winter and that spring is really here!!
Mar 27 2011
Yesterday, I stopped at the Pittsburgh Public Market to pick up some goodies from The Berry Patch (724.238.7214) for my upcoming Laurel Highlands culinary tour. Brenda and Scotty’s stuff is always great – the jams, butters, jellies, pies, empanadas. Irresistable.
And their line of products keeps growing. Yesterday, they had adorable jars of homemade blueberry lemonade with a hint of mint for sale. It was just out of this world. I found out this morning that they sold out of the lemonade. I wasn’t surprised.
So, the market was really jumping. And that made me so happy, because Pittsburgher’s can sometimes be difficult when it comes to accepting new things ( I grew up here, so don’t get in a tizzy over that comment) and I did worry at first that us Burghers wouldn’t “get” this market. I was wrong. It was a lively scene, with lots of people and best of all, lots of people buying things.
I also stopped by to chat with the folks from Clarion River Organics. This organic farm cooperative has produce, meat, milk, cheese . . all sorts of local products, every one of them raised or grown in a conscientious way. I bought some of their Berkshire bacon and a few pork chops. The bacon was thick sliced and super lean (for bacon.) And for the pork chops, they told me that the pigs eat organic watermelons and squash rather then regular corn-based hog feed. I’ll see if I can taste the difference.
Oh, and I bought a bag of tiny winter greens. They are going to make a perfect salad, paired with some shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, toasted walnuts, sliced pears and a Christina Maser Gingered Pear Vinaigrette dressing I purchased in Lancaster.
From the beginning, I thought the Pittsburgh Public Market was a great addition to the Strip District weekend scene. So glad to see that others agree.
Jan 24 2011
If your house is anything like mine, I make my own V-day plans. And it usually involves chocolate in one way or another. I’ve found some new ways to celebrate this year. Best of all, if I plan wisely, my fun can be spread out throughout all of February. Check these out:
Dreadnought Wines and McCormick and Schmick‘s are partnering for a Valentine’s Wine Dinner called Savor Your Sweetheart. It’s being held at M and S’s downtown Pittsburgh outpost on February 10th at 6 PM. The menu includes courses using smoked lobster, oysters, scallops and other goodies. And it concludes with a dessert of white chocolate mousse. Each course is paired with the perfect wine, selected by the delightful Mike and Deb at Dreadnought Seating is limited, so contact the restaurant at 412.201.1156 or email@example.com to reserve your space. Cost is $70 per person (plus tax and gratuity.)
Another idea is to drive south of the Burgh to the Christian Klay Winery for a Chocolate and Wine Lovers Delight on Saturday, February 12 from 1 until 3 PM. It’s $15 per person and reservations are a must! Call 724.439.3424 to reserve your space. This sounds like the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
A little way out from Pittsburgh, but an easy drive, is Pennsylvania’s chocolate heaven, Hershey. As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on there in February. The website, www.chocolatecoveredfebruary.com, has all the details. For just a peep into the festivities, read on. The fancy Circular Dining Room at The Hotel Hershey is hosting a Chocolate Dinner Extraordinaire with a menu that includes Dark Chocolate Braised Beef Short Ribs and Ancho Pepper Cocoa Dusted Grilled Striped Bass. Or you can Create Your Own Candy Bar, attend a Wine and Chocolate Pairing or sit in a Whipped Cocoa Bath at their spa. Oh boy. Sign me up.
My third idea is if you want to venture even further east towards Lancaster. The Chocolate and Wine Tour of Lancaster County sounds amazing. Five B and B’s are participating in this tour, which includes a chocolate dessert buffet and a four course chocolate focused dinner, as well as a tour of local chocolatiers. I already have some favorites out that way. . . Wilbur Chocolates in Lititz and Haute Chocolate Cafe in Manheim Township as well as Wertz Candies at the Brickerville House Shops, but I am always up for something new. (I’m signed up for this tour, so if you go, make sure you look for me and say hello!)
Don’t let Valentine’s Day come and go without a little sweet treat for yourself.
Jul 6 2010
Even though I didn’t make it to the Fancy Food Show in New York last week, I’ve managed to find some new favorites edibles here and there in my travels this summer. I came across Bissinger’s Pink Grapefruit Gummy Pandas in the mini-bar of my hotel a few months ago. The hotel package came with a ten dollar per day allowance from the mini-bar and since I’m not one to let things like this go to waste, I downed a San Pellegrino or two and a bag of these Pennsylvania made gummies. Oh, they are delicious. Tart and soft, not very sticky and sweetened with organic tapioca syrup rather than corn syrup (if anyone cares.) The light pink color comes from black carrot juice and not some creepy dye. I love these little pandas. Next on my list of new obsessions is the Blood Orange Sorbet from Anthony’s at 915 S.9th Street in South Philly.
If you can’t get there, here is a link to a great recipe for blood orange sorbet.(http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/02/blood_orange_so.html)I’m buying a new ice cream maker this week, just to make this . . oh, and to make Mario Batali’s Cantaloupe Ice Cream, too. Number three on the new favorites list, the Blackberry Mojito Spritzer from Barefoot Tea in Cape May Courthouse, New Jersey. It’s a mix of their Blackberry Infusion herbal tea, mint, lime, seltser and ice. So refreshing on a hot day. And last, but not least, the Vietnamese Bahn Mi from the street vendor who sets up her grill and table between 20th and 21st Streets on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. This sandwich, loaded with grilled chicken, hot chile peppers and pickled vegetables makes you sweat just enough to feel cool on a sizzling day. Yum.
A food adventure might be sleuthing out the juiciest June strawberries at a farm market, learning about gone but not forgotten area food treasures, working with a chef during a hands on cooking class or touring Pennsylvania’s artisan cheesemaker’s farms (and meeting a few cows along the way) . . or any of a zillion other fun ways to explore foodie things within a day's drive of Pittsburgh.